A Woody Allen film that wasn’t made by Allen himself; that’s the animal we’re dealing with here. You may wonder, as I did, why a nice Italian-American, John Turturro, is messing with this essentially Jewish format. But then it occurred to me that both Italians and Jews are steeped in a tradition of passion – and guilt. Was this effort (both written and directed by Turturro) as satisfying as I tend to find Allen’s movies? Unfortunately not. Was it interesting? Sure. Be warned that it boasts lots of Jewish in-jokes that may whiz over your head. Weird; perhaps. But Turturro’s career is filled with eclectic surprises.
It tells of Murray (played by Woody Allen), whom our digital age has forced to close down his ailing New York book store. But financial salvation appears to be around the corner: In recent conversations with his dermatologist Dr Parker (Sharon Stone), he’s discovered that she’s willing to pay top dollar for some side action with a gigolo, and Murray immediately thinks of his buddy the florist Fioravante (John Turturro). [Geddit, Italian readers?] Of course, Murray would collect an “agency fee” out of each transaction.
Here, we already hit some credulity issues. Yes, there are wealthy cougars out there prepared to shell out big bucks for no-strings nooky, but chances are that they’d be looking for handsome young stallions. If they could content themselves with the attentions of middle-aged florists, they’d find them aplenty at the local bar.
Murray lives in a very “frum”(orthodox) Jewish neighbourhood, which is policed by the Shomrim; a kind of localized Orthodox police force that looks out for everyday crime as well as infringements of a religious nature. They lack the powers of arrest of the NYPD, but still exert considerable influence over the local residents, who don’t want their fellow Jews to consider them shameful. Dovi (Liev Shreiber) who’s one such officer, starts focusing his interest on Murray’s sideline pimping; particularly when this web of perceived sin draws in a pretty little Jewish widow Avigal (Vanessa Paradis) upon whom he has fixed his romantic designs…
This is a very niche affair; largely for Woody Allen devotees, amongst which I would number myself. And whilst you don’t need to be an observant Jew (or even what I would call “culturally Jewish”) to enjoy it, you’d derive greater enjoyment from this lark knowing what ultra-orthodox Jews get up to in their spare time.
The Bottom Line
Apparently the movie started off as a sketch which Turturro then fleshed out into a feature. This nugget of trivia doesn’t surprise me, as some of the tale’s narrative elements appear tacked on; added for time. My favourite moments are those in which Allen is on screen, spouting his usual, hilarious stream-of-consciousness. If he isn’t ad-libbing, however, then Turturro is the next best Woody Allen dialogue writer on the planet.
The score is a delight for jazz lovers, but, in contrast to the Woodster’s weakness for the frenetic trad jazz of the ’20s and ’30s, we’re treated to mellow, seductive vibes from the likes of Gene Ammons’s tenor sax, and the languid Dean Martin. In short, the soundtrack, like the movie itself, is Woody Allen on Xanax. The overall experience is pleasant, if somewhat muddled, and definitely ethnic in its appeal.
About the Author
Tat Wolfen, whose religious activity is divided between Walt Disney and cats, is a seasoned showbiz reviewer, writer, and multimedia communicator. His reviews have been heard on 702 Talkradio, Kaya FM, and Chai FM, and appeared in newspapers such as The Citizen, City Press and Saturday Star. He’s currently working on a new radio show, and his blog, which specializes in 3-D movie releases. He’s a lazy tweeter, and can occasionally be persuaded to burp out a tweet on his showbiz profile of @Wolfmantat